It’s a standing joke around Atlanta way that Pepsi-Cola employs monkeys.

But unlike most such bitchy gags, this one will shortly become fact. PepsiCo is poised to launch America’s largest giveaway show with a top prize of $1 billion (€0.925bn; £0.636bn) and the lucky winner – if there ever is one – will be selected by a monkey!

The world’s number two cola this week signed a deal with youth channel WB in the hope of repeating its recent success with ‘reality’ TV show American Idol. Pepsi and WB will jointly develop the concept, hiring as producer Michael Davies, an ABC executive who imported Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? from the UK.

The Pepsi Play For A Billion show will launch in May backed by a $20m TV ad campaign. “You're going to see a lot more of this,” enthused Pepsi’s chief marketing officer for North America, Dave Burwick. “It’s so much more difficult for a 30-second ad to stand out these days … When you control the content, you develop the exact message you want.”

The show expects to attract millions of would-be contestants, who have to write or email the company quoting a special code found on the underside of Pepsi bottle caps. The wannabes will be whittled down to 1,000 who get to compete on the show, finally reducing to ten competitors who will battle for a $1 million cash prize.

The ultimate winner will also stand to win a further $1bn bonus prize in a lottery with the numbers picked at random by – you got it in one – a monkey. Pepsi is coy about the odds of anyone actually laying hands on the billion bucks – but has insured against that possibility.

Although Orson Welles never got to see the Pepsi show, maybe he had a premonition when he declared: “I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can't stop eating peanuts.”

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff